Belfast Telegraph

Scottish skipper who died after plunging through trawler hatch in Kilkeel was drunk

Scottish-registered Artemis was berthed in Kilkeel when skipper Andrew Hay died aboard after spending three hours in a pub drinking beer and whiskey
Scottish-registered Artemis was berthed in Kilkeel when skipper Andrew Hay died aboard after spending three hours in a pub drinking beer and whiskey
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

A Scottish fisherman died aboard his vessel in a Co Down harbour last year after spending three hours drinking in a pub.

Andrew Hay (56), from St Fergus village near Peterhead in Aberdeenshire, suffered severe injuries when he fell head-first through an access hatch aboard the Artemis trawler on the afternoon of April 29, 2019.

Mr Hay was the skipper of the Scottish-registered vessel, which was heading to Newlyn in Cornwall to fish for prawns when engine problems forced the crew to dock in Kilkeel.

The circumstances surrounding the father-of-two's death were investigated by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB), which found that he was more than four times the legal alcohol limit for professional seafarers while on duty.

Artemis had sailed from Fraserburgh in Scotland four days earlier with a crew of six including UK nationals and Filipinos.

During the passage through the Irish Sea one of the vessel's diesel generators failed, prompting the stop-off at Kilkeel.

After repairs were completed and while waiting for high tide to sail out of Kilkeel at around 7pm, Mr Hay and one of his deckhands went ashore to a nearby pub.

Mr Hay, who had been involved in fishing since he was a teenager, was not known to be a heavy drinker but had consumed both beer and whiskey for around three hours before returning to the harbour.

CCTV footage showed that he was walking unaided as he approached the vessel but appeared to be unsteady on his feet.

According to the MAIB report: "At about 16.30, the deckhand heard a loud clatter from behind and looked over his shoulder.

"As he did so he saw the skipper fall head-first through the wheelhouse hatch and hit the deck below.

"He immediately went to his aid but could not find any sign of life."

The deckhand raised the alarm and emergency services attended the scene, but Mr Hay was declared deceased at 5.05pm.

As no one witnessed the accident from the wheelhouse, the MAIB said it is likely that he either slipped, tripped or stumbled on his approach to the open hatch, or simply lost his balance while leaning across for support.

The MAIB said modifications to the design of the wheelhouse hatch had increased the likelihood of someone falling through the opening.

The toxicology examination showed no evidence to suggest Mr Hay was under the influence of prescription or illicit drugs, but his blood alcohol concentration was 215 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood, which "would be expected to lead to considerable intoxication".

The report said Mr Hay was an experienced fisherman who had previously part-owned and skippered Artemis and it is highly likely that he was aware of the vessel's alcohol and drug policy.

"The skipper was under the influence of alcohol and this was almost certainly the most significant factor in this accident," it stated.

"The skipper was off duty at the time of the accident but would have been over the mandated alcohol limit at the vessel's planned time of departure.

"It is possible that the skipper did not fully appreciate the amount of alcohol he was consuming or the effect it would have had, as the standard measures for spirits in Northern Ireland were 1.4 times those in Scotland."

The MAIB said statistics indicated that, since 1992, alcohol had been a contributing factor in 62% of the 42 fishing fatalities that had happened while in port.

The skipper's autopsy report gave Mr Hay's cause of death as head injury due to a fall.

The MAIB said it has since issued a safety flyer for the fishing industry highlighting the lessons to be learned from this accident.

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